Brighton is known for its alternative politics and anything-goes attitude and the Subversive Sussex Walk is packed full of stories about the rabble-rousing Brightonians who did anything to see justice done.
A fascinating and amusing tour giving context to Brighton's colourful culture
Lead by Andrew, a man with a history of activism in the city, the tour started off at Brighton's oldest hotel, the Old Ship. There, against the blustery sea wind, he revealed stories of historic agricultural uprisings, Kings smuggled to France, and seafront rallies. It was a socialist's paradise, with every story dedicated to the libertarians, anarchists, and radicals of the city who between them upset royal jubilees, tried to kill the cabinet, and ensured the rights of Brighton's poorest were upheld.
Following Andrew's black anarchist flag, the tour mirrored marches of protests gone by. Unfortunately, there were too many wonderful stories to sum up in the space a review allows! Andrew led us to the newly unveiled blue plaque honouring Brighton's suffragettes, wound through tiny alleyways plastered with socialist posters, and brought the many groups and individuals who fought tirelessly for change in the city to life.
One of those men was Harry Cowley, a Brighton-born chimney sweep who spent his life deeply involved in grassroots activism. One of his many achievements was to found the Open Market that still thrives today, along with fighting for pensioner's rights, finding employment for 'unemployables', and fighting 1930s fascism. His funeral, held at St. Peter's Church, attracted 500 mourners.
But not every story was a wild romp about cunning activist's schemes to disrupt society. Some stories highlighted the cruelty of historic society, needless deaths from unnecessary violence, and the darker political beliefs Brighton once upheld. Who would have believed Brighton to ever be a center of royalism and conservative values?
With a running (or walking) time of two hours, the tour may not be for everyone, and the central location of many of the stops meant that traffic and the general madness of central Brighton drowned out some of the stories. However, the time passed quickly due to Andrew's great storytelling and clear passion for his subject.
The walk ended inside the Cowley Club (a place I have wandered past my whole life, having wondered who or what Cowley was), which was a brilliant way to round a stream of stories in which Harry Cowley was central.
The Cowley club opened as Brighton's radical social centre in 2003, and offers a library, café, bookshop, and events space. Nearby is the vegan food bank to which all of the money raised by the tour is given.
The Subversive Sussex Walk was a fascinating and amusing tour giving context to Brighton's colourful culture today. It also gave an important message that seems as sorely needed now as it was across history: that individuals do have the power to see the changes they need for themselves and their citizens around them.